802.11ac Wi-Fi - Top Wireless Technologies in 2013

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What is it?
Wi-Fi networking technologies have been advancing since the Wi-Fi standard was first introduced, but the technology is making a major leap ahead with the new IEEE 802.11ac standard. The standard, an upgrade from 802.11n, runs on the 5 GHz band and incorporates beam-forming, wide bands and multiple antennas to deliver data speeds up to 1.3 Gbps, compared with peak rates of 600 Mbps with 802.11n. Further, 802.11ac also supports longer ranges and better penetration through walls.

Why is it important?
Numerous chipset companies support 802.11ac as a standard and are working with customers to get devices and networks ready for the new wave of 802.11ac chips that will hit the market in the years ahead. Broadcom, Quantenna Communications and Redpine Signals were early adopters, and Marvell, Mediatek and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Atheros have since followed.

As our sister publication FierceBroadbandWireless explained in 2012, there are many benefits of 802.11ac: "The new technology is expected to improve consumers' abilities to stream high-definition video from home entertainment components to various devices around a home, or from mobile devices to TVs. Consumers will be able to instantly synchronize large data files or quickly transfer a movie from one device to another. Venues, such as convention centers, public hotspots and enterprises will be able to deliver data services to many more users than current technology will allow. Mobile operators will be able to promote 802.11ac to offload data services from 3G and 4G networks."

Broadcom is pushing the technology for inclusion in smartphone chips, and Qualcomm added it to its new Snapdragon 800 chip. IM Research predicted in 2012 that there would be 400 million 802.11ac devices shipping worldwide by 2016. Further, an impending FCC move is expected to increase by 35 percent the amount of spectrum available for "Gigabit Wi-Fi," based on 802.11ac Wi-Fi technology. All of these actions are being made to try to sate consumers' hunger for mobile data--and give carriers speedier Wi-Fi networks for offloading their cellular data.